First-Gen High School Grad Yanet Camarena, MD ’21 Matches into First-Choice Residency
As the oldest of six children, Yanet Camarena learned the responsibility and privilege of caring for others early on in life. She remembers one defining moment when she was 10 years old and her youngest brother—age 7 at the time—was injured after being struck by a vehicle not far from their home in Watonga, OK.
At the hospital with her family, Yanet had to translate from English to Spanish for her parents, who emigrated to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico before she was born.
“I remember the compassion and understanding of the doctor who was explaining everything happening to my brother as I was translating to my mother,” said Yanet, a 2021 AUC School of Medicine graduate. “It made me think that I wanted to be this person for someone else—to help people during the vulnerable moments in their lives.”
Her brother has since made a full recovery, and Dr. Camarena is fulfilling her dream to serve others as a physician. She matched into her first-choice family medicine program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), where she’ll begin residency this summer.
HONORING HER ROOTS AND BREAKING BARRIERS
Not only is Dr. Camarena the first in her family to become a doctor, she’s also the first to graduate from high school and college. “My mother has been my biggest inspiration, encouraging me to be independent and chase my dreams in higher education, because she and my father didn’t have the opportunity to do that,” said Dr. Camarena.
As a teenager, Dr. Camarena took the initiative to figure out college applications and financial aid on her own in order to make her dream a reality. She attended Oklahoma Baptist University with cross-country running and academic scholarships, and held part-time jobs as a pharmacy technician, bank teller, and server to help cover costs. But an Achilles tendon injury at the end of sophomore year prematurely ended her running career, along with her athletic scholarship, and she transferred to East Central University to complete her bachelor’s degree in biology.
During a mission trip in her senior year of college, Dr. Camarena met a pediatrician who had graduated from AUC. While Dr. Camarena had been applying to medical schools, she hadn’t received the MCAT scores she’d hoped for and was considering taking the test a third time or applying to graduate school. The pediatrician urged her not to get discouraged her from her goals, and to look into AUC.
“Looking back, all the transitions I went through helped me learn how to advocate for myself, and prepared me for the challenges of medical school,” said Dr. Camarena.
CHARTING A CAREER IN FAMILY MEDICINE
Dr. Camarena discovered her passion for family medicine as a third-year student completing clinical rotations at Danbury Hospital. While Dr. Camarena had originally been drawn to a career in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN), her time shadowing a family physician at Danbury showed her the range of opportunities available in the field.
“One minute, [the physician] was seeing a newborn; the next minute she had a conversation with a 90-year-old patient who had cancer, and the next she saw a pregnant woman who had Lyme disease,” said Dr. Camarena. “I thought, ‘This is incredible – you get to do everything.’ From then on, it was family medicine for me.”
Dr. Camarena ranked UAMS as her top-choice residency for several reasons—including an option to pursue an OB/GYN track within the program. In addition, the program is close to her relatives both in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and she sees opportunity for having work-life balance while being challenged to grow as a physician.
“Stay true to yourself when you’re interviewing for residency positions. Remember that the point of the Match is to find a good fit on both sides,” says Dr. Camarena. “I was fortunate enough to interview for several really great programs, and I was able to consider my priorities and rank programs that would be the best fit across several areas.”
She encourages medical students to lift each other up and navigate challenges together.
“Celebrate and support each other. It doesn’t have to be a competition,” said Dr. Camarena. “At AUC, you’ll find people who are rooting for each other. If someone in your group of friends did well on an exam, you’d be happy for them, and at the same time, they’d be willing to lend a hand if you were struggling. It’s so important to have these kinds of people around you.”